Language and Gender

Language and Gender

Language and Gender

Language and Gender


Language and Gender is a 2003 introduction to the study of the relation between gender and language use, written by two of the leading experts in the field. It covers the main topics, beginning with a clear discussion of gender and of the resources that the linguistic system offers for the construction of social meaning. The body of the book offers broad and deep coverage of the interaction between language and social life, ranging from nuances of pronunciation to conversational dynamics to the deployment of metaphor. The discussion is organized around the contributions language makes to situated social practice rather than around linguistic structures or gender analyses. At the same time, it introduces linguistic concepts in a way that is suitable for non-linguists. It is set to become the standard textbook for courses on language and gender.


In 1972, Robin Lakoff published an article entitled "Language and woman's place," which created a huge fuss. There were those who found the entire topic trivial - yet another ridiculous manifestation of feminist "paranoia." And there were those - mostly women - who jumped in to engage with the arguments and issues that Lakoff had put forth. Thus was launched the study of language and gender.

Lakoff's article argued that women have a different way of speaking from men - a way of speaking that both reflects and produces a subordinate position in society. Women's language, according to Lakoff, is rife with such devices as mitigators (sort of, I think) and inessential qualifiers (really happy, so beautiful). This language, she went on to argue, renders women's speech tentative, powerless, and trivial; and as such, it disqualifies them from positions of power and authority. In this way, language itself is a tool of oppression - it is learned as part of learning to be a woman, imposed on women by societal norms, and in turn it keeps women in their place.

This publication brought about a flurry of research and debate. For some, the issue was to put Lakoff's linguistic claims to the empirical test. Is it true that women use, for example, more tag questions than men? (e.g. Dubois and Crouch 1975). And debate also set in about the two key parts of Lakoff's claim - (1) that women and men talk differently and (2) that differences in women's and men's speech are the result of - and support - male dominance. Over the following years, there developed a separation of these two claims into what were often viewed as two different, even conflicting, paradigms - what came to be called the difference and the dominance approaches. Those who focused on difference proposed that women and men speak differently because of fundamental differences in their relation to their language, perhaps due to different socialization and experiences early on. The very popular You Just Don't Understand by Deborah Tannen (1990) has often been

1 This article was soon after expanded into a classic monograph, Language and Woman's

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